Monday, January 16, 2006

The Sky Debate: How It Went

Well the first debate between all the candidates has taken place on Sky News.

Before it got under way there was a debate about the branding of the Liberal Democrats the whole way through this they had a bearded sandal wearing walking through the suited and booted of London. So much for Sky having a balanced debate on that issue then!

One of the first questions was what future Charles Kennedy could have in the party. All four of the candidates said they saw no reason why he could not return to Lib Dem front bench when he was ready for it.

Then came the issue of being anonymous and how to build up recognition. All the candidates mentioned that the leader of the party would invariably have more recognition than others. Ming said that this leadership election would be an advertisement for all four and the party outside the confines of Liberal Democrats.

When asked about experience Chris Huhne defended his lack of Westminster experience by saying that the right leader would have the right mixture of skills for the task before highlighting his own.

When asked about the number of seats we would expect at the next election. Ming echoed Charles Kennedy's statement bout no glass ceiling. Simon disappointed in merely saying at least 100, but added that this would have an influence as no party would have an outright majority. Mark Oaten said we should be aiming for 300+ to make us the next Government, he said that the public urge us to be more ambitious in our aims at the last election and we should not shy away from grown up politics.

On the NHS Mark was directly challenged on having differences from Simon and Ming who had spoken before him, and they attempted to portray him as an Orange Booker. he rebutted by saying that the NHS should be a gatekeeper but that patients should be able to take private care if it was more rapidly available as long as the private sector did not take resources out of the NHS.

When the party was accused of being a party of high taxation all four jumped in to say 'Not Higher, but Fairer'. But Ming as in other parts of the debate took the lead and was determined to have the last word.

When asked how they planned to have the party taken more seriously. Mark said it was down to how we present the portfolio of what we believe in. Sir Menzies said we needed to display ambition and consistency. Simon said the party needed to look more like Britain that could engage with Britain. Chris said we needed to be coherent and become interesting and viable to the people of Britain.

One final matter that came up was on nuclear power. Chris pointed out that there had been no privately built nuclear power station since Three Mile Island because they were not prepared for the risks. Mark Oaten took it off that subject but said that instead of paying farmers to plant nothing they should instead use those fields to produce bio fuels. Simon emphasised that we can reach our energy commitments without nuclear it is only that Labour are not really prepared to try.

The final question was on a smoking ban. Ming would reluctantly vote no, and face the wrath of his wife. Mark said he could not support and outright ban. Chris Huhne quoted John Stuart Mill that you may need to coerce people if it can prevent an adverse effect. Simon said that he shan't vote for a smoking ban but says it is right it should be a free vote.

All in all I think the four will actually face far tougher questions at hustings with party members as these are the people who will be really looking for differences between the candidates and who will know which buttons to press. All in all apart for the occasional difference in opinion and rhetoric it was clear that we are a party largely facing in the same direction.

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